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A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. (Rich 2006, pp. 78)
Fox News host Shepard Smith, clearly upset by the recent reports of torture (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), shouts his opposition to such practices during an interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. On the air, Smith declares: “We are America, we don’t torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people—that means it’s mine. That means—I’m not saying what is torture, and what is not torture, but I’m saying, whatever it is, you don’t do it for me! I want off the train when the government starts—I want off, next stop, now!” Smith is as impassioned during the commercial break. “They better not do it,” he says. “If we are going to be Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill, we don’t get to torture. We don’t do it.” And on Fox’s online broadcast The Strategy Show, Smith allows profanity to emphasize his objection. Slamming his hand on a table, he shouts: “We are America! I don’t give a rat’s _ss if it helps. We are America! We do not f_cking torture!!” (Pitney 4/22/2009) In recent broadcasts, Fox contributors have either mocked the idea of torture (see April 17, 2009) or supported it outright (see April 20, 2009 and April 22, 2009).
White House communications director Anita Dunn says that the White House believes Fox News is not a traditional, non-partisan news provider, but a media outlet for the Republican opposition. Fox News is “a wing of the Republican Party,” Dunn says. “They take their talking points, put them on the air; take their opposition research, put them on the air. And that’s fine. But let’s not pretend they’re a news network the way CNN is.” Dunn continues: “[W]e’re not going to legitimize them as a news organization.… We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.” (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Fox News 10/12/2009) In late September, Dunn told a reporter: “It’s opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience. But that doesn’t mean we are going to sit back.” (Scherer 9/30/2009) Fox News retorts that its news reporting segments, which its vice president Michael Clemente defines as being broadcast between “9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on weekdays,” are non-partisan, and criticism of the White House and Congressional Democrats is limited to commentary by on-air personalities such as Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck (see October 13, 2009). “The average consumer certainly knows the difference between the A section of the newspaper and the editorial page,” Clemente says, and adds that the White House is intentionally conflating Fox’s news programs with its opinion shows: “It’s astounding the White House cannot distinguish between news and opinion programming. It seems self-serving on their part.… Instead of governing, the White House continues to be in campaign mode, and Fox News is the target of their attack mentality. Perhaps the energy would be better spent on the critical issues that voters are worried about.” Another Fox News vice president, Bill Shine, welcomes the criticism, saying, “Every time they do it, our ratings go up.” Fox News has recently hired more outspoken conservative media figures, including former ABC News reporter John Stossel for its spin-off channel, Fox Business, and is reputedly negotiating to hire commentator Lou Dobbs away from CNN. Dunn and others say that it will not ostracize Fox News, and its White House correspondent, Major Garrett, will continue to be welcome at White House press conferences. Clemente has instructed Garrett, news anchor Shepard Smith, and other Fox reporters not to appear on some of its commentary programs. However, the White House has limited appearances by its members on Fox News shows; in mid-September, when President Obama made the rounds of Sunday morning talk shows, he skipped Fox, and the White House called Fox an “ideological outlet” instead of a legitimate news provider (see September 18-19, 2009). White House advisers note that in the past, Fox News hosts have falsely accused Obama of attending an Islamic “madrassa” to receive indoctrination in radical Islam (see January 22-24, 2008), promoted “tea party” rallies against the government (see March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, July 28, 2009, and August 28, 2009), called Obama “unpatriotic” for attempting to land the 2016 Olympics for the US (see October 2, 2009), and led a push to force low-level White House adviser Van Jones out of his job (including accusations from Beck that Jones was a “communist-anarchist radical”). The White House notes that Beck and other Fox commentators regularly lie about the day’s events, and cites a recent example where Beck complained that Garrett was “never called on” at White House press briefings, when Garrett had asked a question of the president that same day. Beck has repeatedly called Obama a “racist,” leading to a boycott of advertisers for Beck’s show (see July 28-29, 2009). (Scherer 10/8/2009; Stelter 10/11/2009; Ariens 10/11/2009) Fox News encourages and promotes the dispute with the White House, and its ratings improve. Later, a Fox News executive tells Clemente that the White House’s attacks were like “a hanging curveball” for the network. (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Responding to recent comments by evangelist Franklin Graham that questioned President Obama’s US citizenship (see April 24-25, 2011), Fox News anchor Shepard Smith tells his viewers: “Fox News can confirm that the president of the United States is a citizen of the United States. Period.” Smith refers viewers to the validated copy of Obama’s birth certificate that has been available for years (see June 13, 2008) before making the assertion that Fox confirms Obama’s US citizenship. (Media Matters 4/25/2011; MacNicol 4/26/2011)
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), who in 2003 equated gay sex with bestiality and child rape (see April 7, 2003 and April 23, 2003 and After), now denies ever making the equivalence. During an interview with an Associated Press reporter, Santorum said: “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.” Now, CNN’s John King asks how Santorum connected homosexuality to bestiality, child rape, and, as he said later in the AP interview, bigamy. “How do you connect those dots?” King asks. Santorum replies: “Hold on one sec—hold on a second, John. Read the quote. I said it’s not—it is not—I didn’t say it is—I says [sic] it’s not. I—I—I’m trying to understand what—what—what you—what you’re trying to make the point. I said it’s not those things. I didn’t connect them. I specifically excluded them.” New York Magazine’s Dan Amira writes: “It’s pretty clear what Santorum said: Marriage does not include homosexuality. It also does not include ‘man on child, man on dog.’ Because marriage is ‘one thing’—a heterosexual couple. Santorum’s revisionist interpretation—that he went out of his way to differentiate between homosexuality and pedophilia/bestiality—is absurd. He did the opposite. He had a basket labeled ‘ungodly things that can’t count as marriage,’ and tossed in homosexuality, ‘man on child,’ and ‘man on dog.’” Amira speculates that Santorum is trying to back off of his statements because in the almost nine years since he made them, “acceptance of gay rights and gay marriage has soared. Santorum hopes to become a viable, mainstream candidate, but his past remarks on homosexuality—not just opposition to gay marriage, but disparagement of gays in general—are no longer part of the mainstream. Best to just pretend they never happened.” Fox News host Shepard Smith is another who does not believe Santorum’s disclaimer. Interviewing Republican commentator Terry Holt, Smith asks if even social conservatives would accept Santorum’s claim that, as Smith says, “gay love [is] similar to bestiality.” Holt, in the midst of praising Santorum’s resurgent presidential campaign, listens as Smith adds, “It’s going to be talked about eventually that Rick Santorum is, among other things, a man that equated homosexual sex to bestiality… his list of things that are not going to appeal to any moderate is long.” Holt attempts to dismiss the issue by saying that all of the Republican candidates have had “their share of gaffes.” (Smith 1/4/2012; Amira 1/5/2012)
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